Webpage created: July 13, 2017
Webpage updated: March 27, 2021
EDUCATION IN OLD PLYMOUTH
SAINT PETER'S NATIONAL SCHOOLS
Parochial schools had existed in the parish of Saint Peter's since 1850, when a boys' and girls' school was established in a room over a sawyer's yard in Stonehouse Lane. Access was by means of a step-ladder. It was quickly fitted out with roughly-made desks and second-hand forms. A master was engaged at a very small salary and the school was soon filled with what Mr Prynne himself described as 'boys from the roughest part of my district'.
Later it was removed to another property in the Lane next door to the Hen and Chickens beershop. It had also been previously a beershop. The girls occupied the front portion and the boys were in the large space previously used as a skittle alley. In 1857 there were 60 boys and 80 girls in attendance.
On June 29th 1858, Saint Peter's Day, the vicar of the Anglican Church of Saint Peter the Apostle laid the foundation stone of permanent school buildings adjacent to the Church. The children marched to the parish church from their school-room with flags flying and after Morning Service they were escorted to the site of the new schools, where they were formed into a hollow square in readiness for the ceremony.
Afterwards 'the children were regaled with buns and dismissed to play, after giving three hearty cheers for the success of the new schools'.
The buildings were designed by Mr George E Street, RA, of Oxford.
It was with great difficulty that the clergy of Saint Peter's raised the necessary funds to operate the school especially as it did not have the advantage of a Government grant and the National Society only donated £15 or £20 towards the project.
The land on which the schools were erected cost £700 and the buildings a further £2,000 and almost the entire cost was defrayed by voluntary subscription. The new school was opened on Saint Peter's Day 1859. It consisted of two large and well ventilated rooms formed at right-angles to each other, making an L shape. From these branched class-rooms and separate playgrounds for each sex.
Accommodation for the boys was in a room 76 feet by 18 feet and which was 27½ feet high. Attached was a class-room 16 feet square and 23 feet high. The girls' school-room was 65½ feet long by 18 feet wide and also 27½ feet high. Off it ran a class-room the same dimensions as the boys' room.
About 150 boys could be accommodated but there were 127 on the register and only 100 in regular attendance. The girl's school could accommodate a similar number but only about 50 girls and 50 infants were in regular attendance out of a register of 120.
It might be supposed that as Saint Peter's contained the roughest and poorest section of the Town that this was reflected in the school, but it was not. The very poorest of the children were provided for by the Ragged School in King Street and 'the Irish element', as the newspaper called it, was cared for by the Roman Catholic Schools nearby. Saint Peter's Schools thus had the "cream" of the children of the working classes in the parish.
The school fees were 4d, 3d and 2d per week, the payment being regulated by the class into which the child was placed. However, children of parents who employed men or apprentices and who, under the Revised Code, were not eligible for Government aid, and for whom the school did not get any grant, were required to pay 6d a week.
Unusually for Plymouth, this school was strictly Church of England in its admissions policy. Every boy that applied for admission must have been baptised, although it did not matter as to whether it was in the Established Church or a Dissenters' chapel. They were expected to attend Sunday School, preferably at Saint Peter's, and to go to church regularly on holy days and Sundays. Boys who sang in Saint Peter's choir got their education free of charge and had their materials supplied gratis as well. The girls were similarly treated although they could be baptised after joining the school.
Elementary geography and history were taught in the boys' school along with algebra and Euclid. In 1868 English grammar had been selected for the examination of the seventh standard. The girls did the usual reading, writing and arithmetic as well as geography, grammar, needle-work and knitting.
Every morning either the incumbent or one of the curates of the Anglican Church of Saint Peter the Apostle attends the boys' school and says prayers. The first half-hour of the day was devoted to teaching the scriptures and the catechism according to the Church of England. This was done in each section of the School by the clergy, the master and the assistant master. The younger boys were taught hymns. The children attended church for religious instruction after Sunday School, every morning during Lent and on every holy day of the year.
The teaching staff was inadequate for the numbers of children attending the School. The master, Mr Hitchings, only had an assistant master while the mistress in charge of the girls and infants, a Miss Masters, had the help of three monitresses. It was considered that the staff had their work cut out maintaining discipline.
School pence of £100 10s 1d accounted for the largest section of income for the School, which also received £68 7s 8d from the Government, and voluntary contributions of £39 12s. Collections in the Church raised a further £18 6s 10d, the proceeds of books sold were £3 7s 1d, and a bazaar brought in another £22 8s 10d. The Admiralty gave a grant of £10 in recognition of the number of boys of Marines, sailors and dockyardsmen attending the School. The largest items of expenditure were the £178 for salaries and £30 5s for repairs.
About 80 or 90 girls and infants daily attended a separate school in the Saint Peter's Mission Chapel, for which the two Misses Lockyer gave their services voluntarily.
When the Education Act 1902 transferred the responsibility for education to the Plymouth Local Education Authority, the Saint Peter's National School became the Saint Peter's Church of England Elementary School.